MIAMI (Reuters) - Miami is offering to shake up its financial staff as part of a proposal to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle looming civil securities-fraud charges tied to bond deals.
The federal regulator last month told the city that its Miami lawyers planned to recommend to top SEC officials that civil action such as fines or injunctions be taken against the city for shifting money among capital and operating accounts.
By doing that, the SEC staff concluded, Miami had misled investors about the city's fiscal health during tax-free bond sales carried out when Florida was weathering the worst of a housing bust, which is still dragging on local governments.
Ivan Harris, an outside attorney for Miami, said in a letter to the SEC the city had followed commonly accepted accounting and disclosure practices in moving the funds in the fiscal 2007 and 2008 city budgets. However, he added, the city was willing to make reforms.
Miami, if the SEC agreed, would restructure its financial staff under a chief financial officer, craft detailed procedures for future internal fund transfers and bolster the city's auditing committee, Harris said in the letter dated Monday.
SEC officials should issue a detailed report on how Miami should handle its internal fund transfers, rather than bring fraud charges, Harris said.
"A fraud case against the city ... would do nothing more than sanction a government entity that adhered to relevant accounting principles and made comprehensive disclosures," Harris said.
This is a second high-profile clash between the SEC and Miami, which was hit last month by a caution from Moody's Investors Service that it may downgrade ratings on $669 million of city bonds. The SEC determined in 2001 that the city had tapped the capital budget to firm up its general fund.
The SEC, whose Miami officials were not immediately available to comment, is also currently investigating city bonds used to help build the Marlins Ballpark opened this year.
(Reporting By Michael Connor in Miami; Editing by Bernard Orr)
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